After four months in South Carolina, the call of aquamarine ocean water was too hard to resist. I have moved back to the tropics and am working as an Intern Coordinator for CIEE Bonaire, a study abroad program for undergraduate students located on the Caribbean island of Bonaire just north of Venezuela. I am living at a research station for the next 5 months and assisting with undergraduate coursework in coral reef ecology and advanced scuba diving.
What does a day of life at CIEE Bonaire look like?
Students wake up at a luxurious residence hall one block from the ocean. My standards of luxury may be slightly different than most but the fact that my plush mattress came with a pad on top, our living space features comfy reading chairs, and we have hot water for showering I feel like I’m living in luxury.
After breakfast I may spend my morning analyzing research data through CPC (coral point count) technology. This program selects random points on a video of the coral reef we take while scuba diving and counts the frequency of live hard coral, dead coral, algae or sand to determine how healthy the reef is. This method is generally more accurate than my coral surveys in the Philippines because in the field we counted only 200 points, but with the CPC computer program here in Bonaire we count 2,250 points per 50m transect line.
After lunch we are likely to walk one block to the ocean and go scuba diving. Bonaire is known for amazing shore diving, meaning that as soon as you step into the ocean you can start swimming and see amazing corals and loads of fish. Bonaire has enforced strict no spearfishing laws and bans on harvesting coral. Its marine park was first established in 1979 and the success of these protective measures are apparent. I could not believe how many fish live on these reefs of sizes large and small. This was a major difference from the highly overfished reefs I typically worked on in the Philippines, where the remaining survivors tended to be small and cryptic.
Students at CIEE Bonaire can complete Open Water, Advanced and Rescue Diver certifications during the course of their semester. Tempted to join?! The program is still accepting students for Spring Semester 2017. If you are an undergraduate its not too late! http://cieebonaire.org/
And in the evening for study hall we read our fish field guidebooks and think of creative ways to memorize the scientific names of all the fish and coral species we see. Knowing what we are looking at is the first step to analyzing changes that may be occurring to the coral reef habitat due to human interference or to ensuring that we can protect and support this beautiful habitat in the future.